by Susan M. Spencer,
Writer and Senior Editor, Western Policy Center

The United States is one of a group of seven countries that are cooperating closely with Greece on security preparations for the 2004 summer Olympics in Athens, U.S. Ambassador to Greece Thomas Miller told a Policy Forum at the Western Policy Center. The other countries are Britain, Germany, France, Israel, Spain, and Australia.

The Athens games, he said, are being held in a more dangerous world, following the September 11 terrorist attacks, making any comparison between the security framework of the 2004 Olympics and that of the 2000 Sydney games inappropriate.

The aim, Miller said, is to "try to reduce risk as much as possible," a process similar to that being carried out by U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge in the wake of the attacks in the U.S., so that terrorists will not view the Olympics as an attractive target. This would be the case, he said, anywhere the games were held in the post-September 11 environment. He stated that there was "no information to substantiate" that al-Qaeda was planning to target the Athens Olympics, an issue which is the focus of close cooperation between U.S. and Greek authorities.

In the present environment, taking into consideration its geographical location, "Greece has a sense of vulnerability and has engaged the United States on port security and shipping container issues," he noted.

Greece is working on numerous fronts to ensure a safe Olympics, including the scheduling of frequent tests of the security apparatus to make certain that all procedures are being carried out as designated, the ambassador said.

He noted that the infrastructure being put in place for the Olympics, including new construction and road building, will be of great value to potential investors in Greece after the games are over.

Turning to Greece?s six-month European Union presidency, which ended on June 30, the ambassador stated that Greece had done "an extraordinary job of handling the presidency under difficult circumstances" since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq occurred while Athens was at the helm of the EU.

He gave credit to the Greek government for trying to achieve a consensus among European countries on Iraq at a time when critical issues were on the EU?s agenda, such as the expansion of the bloc and the drafting of a new EU constitution. Despite the fact that Greece and the U.S. have had tactical differences with respect to Iraq, he said, the two countries "have had a certain commonality of objectives" concerning the country.

In addition, during its EU presidency, Greece did a "remarkably good job" of focusing EU and U.S. attention back on the Balkans and reminding Brussels and Washington that "there is still work to be done" in that region, Miller stated.

He noted that, in the 1990s, Greece and the United States had conflicting approaches to the Balkans, while "cooperation and convergence" now exist between the two countries in dealing with both the Balkan states and the Middle East.

Concerning Greek-Turkish tensions in the Aegean, Miller stated that there has been marked improvement in the communication between Greece and Turkey over the last several years. Greek and Turkish officials now "talk directly over the phone," he said, in contrast to the situation during the January 1996 crisis over the Imia/Kardak islets, when there was no direct communication link between the two countries, resulting in the intervention of the United States to defuse the crisis.

He stated that placing Cyprus on an EU accession path in 1995 was the right thing to do, with the premise being that it was important to introduce a "new element" into the process of negotiating a settlement.

The ambassador noted that Greece is one of the few countries in western Europe that is not in the United States? visa waiver program, which makes it unnecessary for citizens of countries in the program to acquire visas before traveling to the U.S. One of the reasons for this, he said, was the fact that Greece does not have a "central accountability mechanism" to maintain an accurate record of passports.